Great analysis. Hit the link for the full editorial, which should be available without a subscription.
Judging by the liberal reaction, you would think the Supreme Court majority that struck down part of ObamaCare's birth-control mandate on Monday has suddenly imposed Shariah law. Yet as a matter of law rather than political opportunism, the narrow decision is an important vindication of religious liberty in this (still, blessedly) pluralistic constitutional republic.
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby challenged the Administration's requirement that all corporations cover contraception including abortifacients and sterilization in their worker health plans. The Affordable Care Act did not require this imposition on businesses such as the Hobby Lobby arts-and-crafts chain that tries to operate in accord with religious principles. The White House invented it via regulatory discretion in 2012 as part of its "war on women" election theme.
The problem is that a 1993 law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, requires the government to meet a high standard when interfering with the free exercise of religion. The feds must narrowly tailor such rules and use the "least restrictive means" at their disposal for achieving some public good.
The White House claims to be promoting women's health and gender equality, but it drew an artificial distinction between types of corporations. Its remarkable argument is that businesses forfeit normal conscience protections when trying to turn a profit.
On Monday the Court held 5-4 that RFRA does cover closely held businesses like Hobby Lobby and that the Administration failed the law's substantial-burden test. RFRA is meant "to provide protection for human beings," Justice Samuel Alito writes. "A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends."
Claiming that for-profit businesses cannot exercise religion reflects the mechanistic liberal view that companies only exist to maximize dollars "at the expense of everything else." But of course corporations have many other goals, such as charitable causes, green energy or, yes, promoting moral beliefs.
The Administration has already made a contraception mandate "accommodation" for nonprofits, allowing soup kitchens and the like to supposedly avoid being complicit in what they view as grave wrongs. This gimmick is being litigated separately and our view is that nothing is solved by hiding the costs of contraception in the balance sheets of third-party insurers. Still, writes Justice Alito, the Administration "has provided no reason why the same system cannot be made available when the owners of for-profit corporations have similar religious objections."
Justice Alito was explicit in noting that the Hobby Lobby ruling only applies to closely held, family-run commercial enterprises. Publicly traded companies with dispersed ownership would have some difficulty demonstrating sincere religious beliefs, and most Americans of all faiths (or none at all) do not share Hobby Lobby's birth control qualms. But tolerance only means something if minority beliefs are respected, especially religious faith and conduct.
... political overkill suggests that Democrats are secretly delighted by the ruling, which they hope to use to scare women to the polls and salvage their shaky midterm prospects. Yet the real liberal grievance isn't with the Supreme Court but with RFRA itself. If Democrats are as upset as they claim, they ought to campaign this fall to repeal RFRA and be honest about how little they care about religious liberty.